by Zoe Burke Sep. 12, 2019
Review: FALSE WITNESS: THE TRIAL OF HUMANITY’S CONSCIENCE At ReinART ProductionsIn a hypothetical eternal court, Hitler is tried for his crimes against humanity. His defense? Martin Luther. The prosecutor? Anne Frank. So begins False Witness: The Trial of Humanity’s Conscience by Robert Krakow, currently running at The Swan Theatre.
The morality play does not spend much time debating whether or not Hitler actually committed any of his heinous acts (“we admit to these actions, which we argue are not criminal”, Luther says early in the play); rather, the play focuses on making a case based on the actions of other historical figures – contemporaries of Hitler such as Henry Ford and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as Richard Wagner and William Shakespeare.
In essence, the argument becomes that people like Ford and FDR supported Hitler, in various degrees, and Wagner and Shakespeare expressed the same anti Semitic sentiments that became so key to the Third Reich – thus, Luther argues that Hitler’s actions were not that bad, since such important figures shared the same views, and may have even been a service for humanity. Indeed, the play puts the supporters (both intentional and otherwise) on trial, more than Hitler himself.
It’s an interesting premise, and one that generally works quite well. The play is clearly well researched and includes little known, rather damning (and disappointing) information about some beloved figures. The main difficulty with the script lies, I think, in its brevity (the play runs about an hour), which may not allow for quite as much depth to the arguments; even so, it is an engaging piece that still provides the audience with a great deal to ponder about the systems and beliefs that allowed Hitler to rise to power in such a horrific way.